Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Trenches / Chapter 1 / Not Your Slave

During the course of the day, I assume many different roles: Laurie Laundress, Clara Cook, Ella Entertainer, Betty Book-Reader, even Nellie Nag. On one particularly trying morning, I seemed to be Polly Put-it-away more than usual. After depositing my son's pajamas in his drawer one too many days in a row, I turned to him and said, "You need to put your own pajamas away. I'm not your slave!"

"What's a slave?" he asked. "A slave," I explained, "is someone who has to work but doesn't get paid for it." This simplistic answer seemed to satisfy his curiosity while summing up my own feelings.

The rest of the morning I worked like a slave--or at least I felt like one. I cleared off the breakfast table and grumbled. I loaded the dishwasher, wiped the counters, and swept the floor. Even while dressing my daughter and changing her diaper I remained mopey. I think the only thing I took pleasure in that morning was my shower. And that was interrupted half-way through by both kids pounding on the bathroom door. They were thirsty.

After putting my daughter down for her afternoon nap and quietly slipping out of her room, I turned around. There in the hall was my son, holding a handful of coins, pennies mostly, that he'd collected from his grandparents. "Here," he said, giving them to me. "Now you're not a slave."

I thought about it for a minute and decided he was right. For a total of 13 cents, he bought my freedom.

Reviewing the morning's activities, I realized that my feelings of self-pity had affected more than just my attitude. By considering myself a slave, I had unwittingly cast my children as the loathsome taskmasters. How much of my resentment for my work-load had been carried over to them? Not much, I hope.
So now that I'm emancipated, how do I go about my day? Reality is that I still have all of the same jobs to do. How do I keep from feeling like a slave?

For starters, I've begun think of myself as a volunteer. Together with my husband, I made a conscious decision to have a family. You could say that I volunteered to be a mother. On days when motherhood is a bit more than I bargained for, I find it helpful to remind myself that I chose this lifestyle.
Another way to feel liberated hinges upon service. Who has the time to ladle soup at the local soup kitchen? We all do. Only we have to stop thinking of the soup kitchen in strictly traditional terms. Why not think of it as our own homes? The very things that can make us feel like a slave--doing laundry, cleaning toilets, picking up toys--when viewed from another perspective, can be acts of service.

Of course, now that I'm beginning to get the hang of home-based volunteerism, my son has other ideas for me. Just the other night as I was sorting the last pair of socks, he approached, more coins in hand. "Take these," he urged. Once I was holding them he said, "Now come with me. I need help picking up my room."

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